Thrifting is a great way to get to better understand your style, how you actually like to dress and what you feel the most comfortable in. It can sometimes feel overwhelming to enter a Zara store where collections and trends are renewed in a fortnight and where it’s easy to just feel like you’re so out of style that you would have to make some major investments to get your wardrobe back on a trend-track. Entering a second-hand shop on the other hand, might give you the opposite experience. For the uninitiated it might even feel like there’s nothing they like or want there.
But when you get into the habit of flipping through the racks of used garments, you will sooner or later start to notice a pattern. What colour section are you browsing first? Do you go through trousers or skirts? Blazers or jumpers? You will probably go through a trial and error phase, but after a while you will hopefully be able to distinguish a pattern. What are the common denominators for the garments you’ve bought – and loved?
Because the positive side effect from thrifting is that when you’re not constantly being fed with the latest trends – you are more likely to invest in garments that you really want or need.
Nevertheless, if you’re not an experienced thrifter, all you might see is endless racks and nippy clothes. But don’t despair, this guide is for you:
1. Think long-term
This is my first advice. A lower price, as is often the case with used garments, could make it tempting to purchase a garment that you might not be sure about. Could you see yourself keeping this garment for years? When it comes to all clothing purchases, new as used, I try to use the “one second rule”. This means that if you try on a garment and you have to ask yourself questions as “Is this my style? Do I like it? Should I buy it?” – put it back. If you like it, you’ll know. If you don’t know instantly, you will ask yourself the same questions when you’re considering wearing it in the future too.
2. Investigate materials and invest in quality before quantity.
Following the same principles as above, but this time the question is whether you actually can keep the garment for longer. A quality garment can stay with you, or someone else, throughout a life-time – so make sure that you screen washing labels, seams, look out for defects and reflect on how the touch of the material feels on your body.
Also note that if a lower quality garmenet actually made it through the sorting and is put out to be resold in a second-hand shop – the quality could be better than you would expect as it made it past it’s first owner.
3. No fixing or modification needed
Let’s be clear about this. Unless you really are a seamstress or you plan to remake a garment completely; don’t buy stuff that you will need to fix or repair before using them – you just won’t. Is it broken or has other defects; wholes, lost shape or colour etc. Don’t buy it, if it’s already broken as it might be a sign of poor quality or, that the garment is reaching the end of it’s lifespan, which might disappoint you later, and you might end up never wearing it.
4. Know your body’s size
If you do, you’re going to know what to look for. You will not need to look for numbers and sizes as they won’t be consistent between different garments anyway. It saves you a lot of time and effort and you will probably dress better too.
PPW – Price per wear or Price per use, this bespoken concept also applies to used garments. Just because it might be ridiculously cheap, what is the price in the long-run? How many times would you wear it? For all garments, new or used, you should take into consideration how much you would pay per wear as if you were renting the garment. You calculate the PPW by dividing the Price of the Garment with the number of times it has been or will be used.
A blazer for £15 that you wore twice. The equation will then be:
PPW = £15/2 = £7.5 per wear
A leather jacket in good condition for£150 that you will keep and wear 100 times a year for 10+ years:
PPW: 150/(100×10) =£0.15 per wear
6. Thrifting is also consumption
Lastly, I just wanted to add a short comment on consumption. It’s important to keep in mind that just because you’re buying used garments, you are still consuming and it’s also possible to develop unhealthy habits in second-hand shopping. Remember the “one-second-rule” and that whatever you buy should not be pilled up unused in the back of your wardrobe. Read more about how the second-hand market is contributing to our consumer society here.
Being a thrifter is more like a lifestyle and a hobby than something you can just occasionally do. It’s a process that takes time and effort to learn to master and it’s not made over a night. It might require you to make a couple of bad purchases and it will require you to open your eyes and view garments in a new light.
Best of luck and, most importantly – have fun thrifting!